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Melky Cabrera and Alex Rios have a game within the game

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Kansas City had to settle after White Sox ponied up, and those decisions have direct divisional consequences

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

After the White Sox sprung the Melky Cabrera signing on everybody in December, the rest of the baseball world had to piece it together after the fact. The Sox didn't quite qualify as a Mystery Team, but they were considered to be on the periphery at best while other clubs had stronger public links.

The Sox surprised the league because they were thought to be low on payroll room after their earlier big-ticket acquisitions, but Cabrera assisted in the shock. He preferred to play east of the Mississippi, which may have inspired him to resist a longer commitment elsewhere:

But that tweet conflicted with other reports, and I hadn't seen a follow-up, so I didn't know what kind of weight to give Heyman's word.

One day short of two months later, I came across this exchange from a chat with the Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough on Friday:

Melky chat

Amending McCullough's answer, the average annual value of Cabrera's deal is "only" $14 million. Nevertheless, this sets up a fascinating subplot for the upcoming AL Central battle royal, because after the Sox signed Cabrera, the Royals settled on Alex Rios for a one-year, $11 million consolation contract.

We could already connect these signings to a certain degree, because the Royals were one of several teams courting Cabrera. With this knowledge, it's hard to tether the outfielders together any tighter. It's basically going to be a one-round fight to see which AL Central team solved its problem better, and ZiPS gives the Sox an edge:

PA 2B 3B HR BB% K% BA OBP SLG OPS+ Def WAR
Cabrera 598 29 4 14 6.7 12.0 .296 .342 .440 113 -4 1.7
Rios 571 32 6 10 4.4 15.6 .281 .313 .419 100 0 1.2

That's closer than I expected, because Cabrera won 2014 in a landslide:

PA 2B 3B HR BB% K% BA OBP SLG OPS+ Def WAR
Cabrera 568 35 3 16 6.9 10.8 .305 .351 .458 126 -4 2.6
Rios 521 30 8 4 4.4 17.9 .280 .311 .398 99 -3 0.2

Should the projections win out over the recent trends, the Royals will enjoy saving some money in 2015 and beyond. But if 2014 proves to be the sign of things to come, that difference in AAV could be some of the cheapest/costliest $3 million you'll see.